Wild ride

Adventure events are having a big impact on tourism in KwaZulu-Natal


In KwaZulu-Natal each year, the KAP sani2c three-day mountain bike stage race sees up to 4500 mountain bikers traverse 286 kilometres of stunning trails between Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg and Scottburgh on the KZN South Coast. Riders and their supporters come from all over South Africa, with the largest group being from Gauteng (just over 50%).

Although most of the riders are accommodated in tents in race villages over the five days that the three versions of the three-day race take place, it is clear that both the Himeville/Underberg area and the South Coast town of Scottburgh, locations for the start and finish of the race, receive a big boost in tourist numbers especially on the nights before and after the event.

A recent rider survey found that 60% of respondents spent a night in the Underberg area before the start of the race, and 25% spent a night in Scottburgh after the race finish. Further, 25% say they stayed in the Scottburgh area for two nights or more.

Glencairn Farm in Himeville, near the base of the Sani Pass, is the start venue for the KAP sani2c in May, and the farm has become host to a number of other successful events over the past few years. The Joberg2c is a nine-day mountain bike stage race and the last three days of this event follow the same route as KAP sani2c, also bringing huge numbers of people to the area. The Glencairn Trail Run was held for the third time in October, and the newer Glencairn Retreat happened for the first time recently. The trail run event hosted 800 runners and their families and friends for a weekend, with groups opting to either use the tented accomodation provided on the farm or B&Bs, self-catering establishments and the like.

The Glencairn Retreat was a weekend of yoga and pilates sessions, set in the tranquil farm environment ideal for meditation and contemplation. Again, some guests chose tents, others chose to stay at the surrounding accommodation offerings. Year-round this picturesque farm with its own self-catering cottages is an ideal getaway location and wedding venue, where visitors can relax and breathe in farm air, or get out and be active.

Glencairn Farm hosted a New Year’s bash in December, and in March 2019 hosted the first Glencairn Swimrun, where participants take part in two days of swimrun, a sport with no transitions. Athletes run in their wetsuits (if they opt to wear one) and swim in their running shoes.

Glen Haw, founder of the KAP sani2c, says they purchased Glencairn Farm in order to develop the infrastructure needed for the large scale of the event that sani2c has become. A local dairy farmer himself, “Farmer” Glen is a man passionate about farming and mountain biking, but is equally determined to uplift the communities around them. The family runs Glencairn Farm as both a sheep farm, its original form, and a wedding venue when it is not hosting events.

“We are proud to be part of developing tourism in the area. The Southern Drakensberg is one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, and we have had many a mountain biker tell us they had no idea the Drakensberg was so breathtaking and that they will definitely be bringing their families back for a holiday.

“For us, the real value of sani2c, other than providing an awesome three days of riding for visitors, is the sustainable development of our communities. The support we see of local B&Bs, guest houses and hotels by our riders, is a fantastic endorsement of the hospitality available along the 286 km route down to the sea at Scottburgh.”

The KAP sani2c is run on a community model with all the services needed for the event provided by volunteers in the community – from schools, churches and NGOs – and the organisations are then paid for the services. Over R 10 million was paid to communities along the route from the 2018 KAP sani2c. Community members have also been trained in construction through the development of the permanent infrastructure at Glencairn Farm.

“We have built 29 permanent showers at Glencairn for sani2c, and 64 at Jolivet Farm where the permanent race village for Day 2 is located. We are in the process of building more cottages that will serve as self-catering accommodation at Glencairn. With the assistance of our sponsors from the KAP sani2c, Tile Africa and Hansgrohe, we have been able to upskill a number of people from our local community to be builders and tilers. We did not expect sani2c to grow into such a big event, but the way it grew has enabled us to do so much to assist our communities and grow tourism along the route,” says Haw.

Gregg McDonagh from KarMichael Farm Self-catering and B&B, less than five kilometres from Glencairn Farm, explains the impact of sani2c and other events on their business:“Riders and sponsors have returned year after year to KarMichael Farm for the sani2c and we love hosting them. The loyalty we receive from these guests really gives us such a sense of satisfaction, as we can really see they appreciate the efforts we go to to make their stay relaxing and comfortable.

“We are booked out a year in advance. Not only do we benefit from sani2c, but also from Joberg2c and Glencairn Trail Run. Our proximity to the start and ease of access makes us a really base. sani2c has really put KarMichael Farm on the map in terms of accommodation choices in the Underberg.”

Himeville itself is a small town, and offers a pub lunch at the famous historic Old English Pub, located at the Premier Hotel Group’s Himeville Arms hotel. The Himeville Fort and Museum is worth a visit; it is considered one of the best rural museums in South Africa. The many buildings house furnishings from the early 1900s, extensive collections of pioneering records and photographs, farming and dairy implements, and a display of Boer War and World War two relics.

From Sani

The only access road between KwaZulu-Natal and the Lesotho Highlands, the Sani Pass, starts once you have cleared the South African border post into Lesotho. Visitors can stop at the Sani Mountain Lodge where they can enjoy a beer at the Highest Pub in Africa at 2874m above sea level. At the base of the pass you will find the Premier Resport Sani Pass.

General Manager of the Premier Resort Sani Pass, Sefton Cramer, says that most guests at the hotel, which is less than 10km from Glencairn Farm on the Sani Pass road, join a 4x4 day tour up the pass. He says the majority of their guests are South African (approximately 75%), thr rest being international tour groups and individuals.

Premier Resort Sani Pass is nearly fully booked already for the KAP sani2c in May 2019. “We benefit hugely from sani2c, Sani Stagger, Ultra-Trail Drakensberg and many more events like it, and our wedding and conference offering is now beginning to attract big groups,” says Cramer.

After Premier Hotels & Resorts purchased the old Sani Pass Hotel, it closed its doors for a full year and renovated, opening again in April 2018.

The result is modern and stylish and yet sympathetic to the setting: an amphitheatre of mountains. Block-mounted photographic canvases of local birds and flowers echo the natural world on your doorstep, and liberal use of sandstone brick tiles creates an earthy look that works well in the environment.

The resort provides access to horse trails up the mountain to Lesotho as well as shorter horse and pony rides around the property. The Resort has a Kids Club with a team of professional ambassadors to assist and oversee a wide range of activities and entertainment. Other on-site activities include swimming, chess, snooker, bowls, volleyball, putt-putt, waterfall picnics, fishing, rides and hikes. The resort boasts a nine-hole golf course suitable for avid golfing individuals and a Spa overlooking the pool with mountain views.

Phindile Makwakwa, Acting CEO of Tourism KZN, said “The KAP sani2c is fast becoming a major sporting event in the KZN calendar and its contribution to the sector continues to grow in leaps and bounds, attracting participants from all over the country.”

To the sea

Ambercrest Bed & Breakfast is situated less than a kilometre from Scottburgh Primary School, the location of the finish of the KAP sani2c events. Owners Leon Bakker and Neels De Bruin say they are always fully booked during sani2c week, and other events in the area assist greatly to fill beds during the low season.

““The sani2c and Joburg2c are two big events for Scottburgh. We have been here for 11 years and every year our B&B is fully booked. It also impacts other businesses like restaurants and even the schools, who benefit as they are involved in moving the riders’ vehicles from Underberg to Scottburgh. It really does put Scottburgh on the map. Next year for example we are already fully booked for the Joburg2c. A group from Germany booked the whole house and will be staying for 3 days after the race.”

CEO of Ugu South Coast Tourism, Phelisa Mangcu, sees the mission of the KAP sani2c aligning closely with the goals of her organisation:

“The sani2c route touches on rural communities which is very much in line with our focus, as our focus is on diversifying our coastal offering, and we encourage tourists to get exposed to and experience the way of living and our cultures in rural communities. The race through these communities brings opportunities for small businesses to provide services to bikers; it can be someone selling water or souvenir items along the route. The sani2c bike route therefore has good benefits for our communities, not only in terms of creating exposure to the bikers but also in terms of poverty alleviation.”

Maryann Shaw

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